Below the North Atlantic
The Royal Navy nuclear submarine HMS Alcide was silently cruising at five hundred feet approximately six hundred miles off the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. The First Lieutenant was in the control room; he picked up the internal speaker phone, “Captain to the control room”. “Helmsman slow ahead both, keep the bubble level, shut watertight doors and come to silent routine”. Over the ships communication system he repeated twice the call Action Stations. Action Stations, attack team close up. “What’s going on number one? The Captain had just entered the control room, sleep still evident in his weary eyes. Commander Dave Miller RN was near the end of his career having served for some thirty years in the Royal Navy. The last twenty in nuclear submarines, he was one of the Royal Navy’s most experienced captains. This was his last command, and the aging nuclear attack boat like Dave was due to decommission at the end of this tour. The life of the boat had already been extended by three years because of the volatile situation in the Middle East. The First Lieutenant said “Sir, we have a sonar contact to starboard, it is a submarine, range ten thousand yards and depth approximately three hundred feet. Sonar suggests the signature could possibly be a Russian Kilo class. But that’s the odd thing Sir; it’s much noisier than the usually very quiet Kilo’s. As you know they are normally silent and difficult to detect. However if as you say she is noisy then its very possible she is an Iranian Kilo, but this far out in the Atlantic, that surprises me, replied the Captain. The Iranians have fallen out with the Ruskies and are now doing their own refits. He fact if she is so noisy I’d suspect its due to ill fitting and poorly made Iranian precision parts.. Apparently the Russians won’t sell to them anymore so they have been manufacturing their own parts. It is most likely an AIP boat (Air independent Propulsion) and it should be almost as quiet as the Alcide”. The curious question is, what is she doing this far out into the North Atlantic? The captain picked up the mike, Sonar; give me a fix, what is her course and speed? “Steady on course 320 degrees at six knots and so far seems unaware of us Sir”. The XO turned to the captain, Sir; I think you are right, she has to be Iranian; I’ve checked the navies still using this class. There is only a couple, Vietnam may still have a few, India did have a fleet but have gone nuclear and that only leaves Iran. Thank you XO, it would be unlikely to find a Vietnamese boat this far from home. However, with Iran anything is possible. Number One, slow to six knots and tuck us in behind her, lets shadow for a while and see if we can find out what she’s up to. Aye Aye Sir, helm slow to six knots get into her baffles and steer 320 degrees. Number One I think we can stand down from action stations for the moment, but keep everyone on their toes”.
For the next two hours Alcide crept silently along astern of the Kilo, while she remained unaware of her company. Just as the afternoon watch change was taking place an air conditioning unit in the forward torpedo room ran a bearing. The unit started to seize and before it could be shut down the bearing gave off a horrendous screeching sound that reverberated throughout the boat. The Kilo could not possibly have missed the noise they were only one thousand yards ahead. Even the most inept sonar operator could not have missed the sound. The First Lieutenant cursed under his breath, damn, this tub should have been decommissioned years ago. “Action Stations, Action Stations, attack team close up”.
“Captain Sonar, the target is altering course and increasing speed. It appears we have been detected. Very good sonar, continue tracking and inform me of any new changes. Helmsmen keep us running parallel, we are opening the range to 10000 yards, keep alert for any sudden course or speed alterations. Sir, sonar reports the Kilo is heading away at high speed. “Very good Number One, it would appear they have a smart skipper driving her”
“Captain, sonar, the target range nine thousand yards and slowing. Her bearing is moving right to left she is altering course back toward us. The captain scowled, what is that damn fool doing? Surely he is not planning to attack us. Captain Sonar, range of target closing and speed increasing. Sir, I have detected what sounds like her bow caps opening”. “Very good sonar, the captain switched the mike to the torpedo room. Forward torpedo room, Captain speaking, open bow caps one and two and standby to fire.
It looks as if this crazy bastard intends to make a fight of it XO. Take the boat deep and level off at 1000 feet, absolute silence throughout the boat. If we shake him off under this layer we can then sneak up behind him and spoil his day. Captain Sonar, we have two high-speed torpedoes in the water range 8,000 yards and closing. The silly bastard is trigger happy; he has fired way too soon. Activate and launch decoys. Decoys launched sir, range now 70000 yards and closing. Full ahead, steer 090 bring the boat up to 500 feet. The control room was absolutely silent the only sound was a slight hum from the electrical equipment. Tension was high but the well-trained crew went about their duties in a calm efficient manner. Torpedo range 6000 yards and closing. Sir, explosion in the water, the first torpedo has attacked a decoy. The second torpedo is still closing, range 5000 yards. Launch two more decoys. Aye Aye Sir, decoys launched. Come hard to starboard speed 15 knots. The boat leaned slightly as the main reactor increased power to drive the big vessel through the black depths. It was silent as a tomb as the crew swiftly maneuvered the warship. The remaining torpedo failed to avoid the second pair of decoys and exploded about 3000 yards astern of Alcide. “That was too close for comfort, muttered Dave; okay let’s show this guy our teeth. In the Alcide control room everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Now it was the Kilo’s turn and almost certainly its captain knew his boat was in serious trouble. Struggling to gain speed the enemy turn away attempting to dodge and escape the imminent attack. The Kilo was no match for the speed of a nuclear attack submarine. Commander Miller had the enemy where he wanted him one torpedo would be sufficient. “For-ends prepare to fire tube number one on my command”. “Steer 060, keep the ship steady, target range 6000 yards, I will fire at 3000 yards”. “Sonar give me a continuous report of the range as we close”. “Aye Aye sir, range 5000 yards and closing”. Dave was tense as the range closed; he knew what must be done. The enemy had fired on his ship and tried to destroy them. Captain, target range is now 3500 yards. Very good sonar, stand by to fire tube number one”. He was standing very still watching the plot; a trickle of sweat ran into his right eye. The XO was timing the attack and began the count down at thirty seconds. In a few moments at his command he would kill the enemy and sent some sixty young men to their deaths. The thought of this terrible decision weighed heavily on his heart. Nevertheless, it was a responsibility that came with command. The XO was counting down ten nine eight when suddenly the radio operator yelled, “Sir we have an urgent priority signal stream coming in. Damn it, okay, stand down the forward torpedo room. Officer of the watch bring the boat to periscope depth and raise the aerial Stand down from action stations but Sonar keep a close eye on that bastard and make sure he keeps running away
The Admiralty sure knows when to interrupt a person eh number one? Signalman bring the message to me in the wardroom for decoding as soon as you receive it”. “The XO was laughing, You know Sir it occurs to me the skipper of the Kilo is probably telling his crew they have just been saved by the will of Allah? I doubt that he will know it was by the will of the Admiralty. The Captain smiled and said, come with me XO lets see what the Admiralty want us to do now As he passed the wardroom he asked the steward to bring two cups of tea, I could use something a little stronger but tea will have to do. As Dave was stirring his cup of tea there was a light tap on the wardroom door. Excuse me Sir, I have the decoded signal, it is for your eyes only category, a top priority signal and requires immediate action. Thank you Sparks, okay XO lets find out what our Lords at the Admiralty have in store for us now”.
A few moments later sipping his tea the skipper was reading the decoded signal wondering what it all meant.
It read – CO Alcide for immediate action.
Disregard all previous orders make immediate covert fast transit to point off the entrance to Charleston Naval Base South Carolina USA. Remain submerged and await further orders. No explanation to crew at this time. Avoid all contact with shipping en-route. Message ends.
Require immediate confirm receipt
Message Origin London UK 0800 Hrs 14-01-2012 – Office of the First Sea Lord.
Captain Miller had received many messages during his long career, but never one from the First Sea Lord himself. He headed back to the control room and pulled out the required charts, plotted the new course and sent for the navigator. “Navigator, please make all possible speed to the new position I have marked on the chart. Keep the boat at 1000 feet, avoid all contact and do not mention our new destination to anyone. Sorry I can’t explain more at this point. Crew rumours will be inevitable but let’s try to keep them to a minimum on this mission for as long as possible. Oh and Navigator let me know our ETA as soon as you have it. Stay alert; this message came from the very highest authority. Back in the wardroom Dave scratched his chin thinking how odd it was to come across an aggressive Iranian submarine this far out into the North Atlantic. Could it have just been a coincident, maybe they were lost, maybe a nervous or fanatical trigger-happy skipper? Then again maybe the boat was there for a reason. Dave recorded the recent encounter in the ships log then instructed the radio room to send a signal to Admiralty reporting the near action with the Iranian boat.
God Bless and keep reading and stay tuned for the next exciting chapter on 29th June 2014.